Thursday, February 28, 2019

Jon Miller on the Michael Cohen hearings

Once again, you'll have to pardon Jon Miller's histrionic delivery about the Michael Cohen case, but he makes good points. I, too, wondered why people seem to think that that $35,000 check is some sort of knockout punch. Unless you've got evidence that proves intent, that check could be for anything. This whole proceeding is a joke.

Roger Simon snidely observes:

Dems Reelect Trump by Staging Partisan Cohen Hearing During Nuke Negotiations

That's because they seem unable to learn from past mistakes. Simon writes:

The day the Democrats decided to schedule the House Oversight Committee hearing with Michael Cohen to coincide with Trump's negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi is the day the Democrats ensured the president's reelection. It was one of those rare moments of clarity you can imagine in the history books.

The Democrats revealed themselves as partisan hacks while the president was halfway around the world trying to save the lives of millions. That's not just bad timing, it's atrocious. And it has little to do with the success or failure of the talks with Kim. No one knows how that will turn out, probably not even the principals themselves. It has do with the priorities of the human race like global survival -- what a normal person should care about.

At first the consensus (at least among the talking heads) was that the hearing would outshine whatever was happening in Hanoi, but as the day wore on with no revelations that were even slightly new (Trump paid Stormy -- je suis shockay), no evidence of conspiracy with the Russians whatsoever, just tons of speculation and innuendo we have been hearing since the day Trump came down the escalator, and ended with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in some racist rant at Rep. Mark Meadows (we already knew she was an anti-Semite), we realized we were witnessing a bizarre clown show that only a CNN commentator could like.

Read the rest.

ADDENDUM: a dissenting commenter at Instapundit states the obvious:

As much as I wish Mr. Simon were right, he isn't. The next election's a year and nine months away. The Dems trying to upstage Trump's negotiations with North Korea will be long forgotten.

Keep in mind, though, that campaign videos tend to dredge up past sins as a reminder.

canceled, alas

Because I woke up with some residual hip pain this morning, I've decided that walking 60 km tomorrow will be unsafe for me. I'd rather start such a long walk at a pain level of zero; my fear is that, should I begin the walk while hurting even a little, that discomfort might worsen over the course of the walk until it becomes unbearable. Even were I to start at zero pain, there's still a chance I'd end up hurting, although I think the pain would be bearable by the end of the walk. Truth be told, I'm feeling very little pain right now, as I type this, but I still don't want to tempt fate.

So I'm going to reschedule the walk for very late in March or sometime in early April—perfect walking weather, what with Korea's all-too-brief spring in full flower. Expect updates in a few weeks, then, when I ought to be completely healed up.*

As you can imagine, I'm angry and frustrated that Mother Nature chose this moment to put me temporarily out of commission. Friday is a perfect day for walking; in fact, I may end up doing a long-ish walk, anyway—something in the neighborhood of 30K steps.

*The long-range forecast says that the weekend of March 9 is looking pretty good (mostly sunny), so who knows—I might make my attempt then.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

the Friday question: is that your final answer?

So here's an update on whether or not our R&D team gets Friday off: the human-resources department weighed in and said we do get this Friday off. The reasons for this are many, but the predominant reason has been the number of complaints from faculty and staff about not getting so-called "red days" (i.e., national holidays) off. You'll recall that I had to work on New Year's Day at the beginning of this year, which has never happened to me before, even while working at this goofy company from 2015 through 2018.

Our immediate supervisor is telling us that we'll "act as if we're getting Friday off," even though he still hasn't heard back from our department's head for the final pronouncement. We (my supervisor and I) had several stupid and useless conversations about things like chain of command, flow of information, and why no one ever seems to chart anything out so that everything's in writing and there's no ambiguity.

I think part of the reason is that Koreans tend to prefer ambiguity to clarity, which is why they find it so difficult to commit to a specific position on anything. They prefer clarity only in those situations where clarity is imposed with the force of doctrine, e.g., when taking a multiple-choice test and knowing that only one answer out of four is the objectively, absolutely correct one. Because the objectivity is being imposed "from above" or "from outside," so to speak, by whatever authorities designed the test, it's fine that only one multiple-choice answer is correct. (Koreans love multiple choice. They hate essays.*)

But in situations requiring actual thinking, actual decision-making, and clear communication far in advance of the advent of any potential problems, Koreans suffer from gyeoljeong-jangae (결정장애), or decision-making disorder. All of this speaks to the larger issue of taking responsibility. Koreans don't think in individualistic terms; for them, responsibility is necessarily diffused. So when it's suddenly incumbent upon a single person to make a crucial decision, that person will do what he or she can to fob the decision off onto someone else. (This is, by the way, just as true in non-Korean bureaucracies.) If an authority comes along and makes a brute declaration, then everyone who's lower on the hierarchy sighs in relief because the crucial decision has been made by someone brave enough, and with enough authority, to make it. But if no such authority seems to be present, and a crucial decision must be made, everyone shrinks from the responsibility of making it. It's a bureaucratic version of the bystander effect. There may be historical and cultural reasons for why this problem is particularly acute in South Korea, but I can't even begin to speculate about that.

Upshot: Koreans love ambiguity and complexity, and they hate clarity and simplicity. "Hmmm," they'll say, when you ask a seemingly simple yes/no question. "That's a very complicated matter. Let me think." This is how Koreans conduct business (where reneging on contracts is commonplace because "the situation has changed," i.e., "we're congenitally incapable of committing to a fixed position"), how they conduct diplomacy ("This is a very delicate matter, so let's discuss this at our next summit, six months from now."), and how they behave in everyday life ("Hmmm... hard to say."). Unless they're responding to the clear downward flow of authority in an explicitly hierarchical situation, Koreans are often at sea when the time comes to choose a fork in the road. Like Yogi Berra, when they see a fork in the road, they take it.**

Maybe there's something to be said for the ways in which Koreans refuse to dichotomize. Reality is often more complex than a simple binary choice. Dualism, as Buddhism in its various strains preaches, is a cognitive and even a moral trap that actually deprives us of the freedom to respond fully and naturally to any given situation. And that's all fine on a philosophical level, but on the practical level of trying to get a straight fucking answer about whether we do or don't have this coming Friday off, Korean bureaucratic indecisiveness and imprecision are annoying as hell.

Anyway, it seems we have Friday off. But with my left hip joint still acting up, I'm probably going to cancel my hike. This isn't a huge deal; we'll be moving into spring in a few weeks, and I'll have nearly two months of decent walking weather in which to do the 60K trek. There'll be plenty of time to heal up and walk long.

*This is why, whenever I'm forced to design multiple-choice exercises for our textbooks, I subvert the "only one right answer" paradigm and design questions with two or even three correct answers. In such cases, I leave instructions for the student to "choose as many answers as are correct." And I always leave at least one question with only one correct answer—just to fuck with their heads. Ha!

**There are other times when Koreans show decisiveness, but this is what I might call prescribed decisiveness. For example, when I was in mourning after my mother's death, my Korean buddy JW brusquely told me,"You have to move on." This was a stock response that doubtless had roots in how JW had been raised to handle death. Whether the sentiment itself was wise or unwise, the automatic way in which it was delivered felt cold and callous. Koreans (and I imagine this is true in all other cultures) learn prescribed ways to respond to certain situations. Perhaps we all have our stock responses to things like death, but my point here is that Koreans will, on occasion, evince a kind of definiteness not seen in other aspects of their daily interactions. Korean mothers, raising their kids, seem pretty definite when they respond to their children's misbehavior. They may be less so in teaching their kids about morality, which is a fairly flexible, nebulous notion in Korean society to begin with.

Michael Cohen's opening statement

One of Donald Trump's former lawyers, Michael Cohen, is now at the beginning of what is to be several rounds of testimony—some of it public, much of it behind closed doors—in which he will accuse the sitting president of several types of malfeasance. The PDF of Cohen's opening statement is here (h/t Drudge); it opened on my browser and didn't download.

Cohen's statement, which I've now read in part, can be interpreted several ways, but there's a clear "I lied to Congress before, I know, but this time, you have to believe I'm telling the truth" vibe about it. Will Cohen's "irrefutable" evidence be enough to take Trump down? I seriously doubt it. The whole thing is going to get the mainstream media squawking and flapping excitedly, of course, because they keep forgetting the previous twenty times that the battle cry "Trump's going down for sure this time!" failed to herald any real results.

I recognize that some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility. It is for this reason that I have incorporated into this opening statement documents that are irrefutable, and demonstrate that the information you will hear is accurate and truthful.


The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I’m here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump.


hip update

I just did my late-afternoon walk with a coworker, and the hip is still painful but usable. Things hurt a bit less now, and noticeably so, than they did earlier today. Does this count as radical improvement? Hard to say, but if I'm still in any significant pain tomorrow when I wake up, I'm probably going to have to cancel the walk this weekend. Tonight, I'll try walking home from work to gauge how much pain there is while walking.

More updates to follow.

some juicy links to chew on

First link:

"Robot 'GOD': AI version of Buddhist deity to preach in Japanese temple"

A JAPANESE robot has been created to preach the teachings of Buddha in colloquial language at the Kodaiji Temple in the ancient city of Kyoto.

The humanoid robot is modeled after Kannon Bodhisattva, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. The robot’s name is Mindar and it gave its first speech on the Heart Sutra, a key scripture in Buddhist teaching. The Japan Times reported that the teachings spoken by the robot offer a path to "overcome all fear, destroy all wrong perceptions and realise perfect nirvana.”

As Mindar gave its speech on the Heart Sutra and humanity, English and Chinese subtitles were projected on the wall as music played in the background.

The chief steward of the temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward Tensho Goto during a news conference said: “If an image of Buddha speaks, teachings of Buddhism will probably be easier to understand.”

He added: “We want many people to come to see the robot to think about the essence of Buddhism.”

Another official connected to the temple explained how the robot would “help people who usually have little connection with Buddhism to take an interest” in the religion.”

The words "god" and "deity" that appear in the article's title are somewhat misleading, as is the content of the article itself. The being Kannon, short for Kan-se-on (called Gwaneum, or Gwan-sae-eum,* in Korea, and Kuan Yin, or Kuan Shih Yin, in China), started off as a Chinese goddess of compassion and mercy, but was appropriated(!) by Buddhism to become the East Asian bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is a compassionate being who, instead of stepping onto the far shore of nirvana, remains in the world to help others across the threshold first. This is a central ethic in Mahayana Buddhism: one's motivation for right action is always the saving of all sentient beings.

As I discussed in my long-ago post about paganism and the Christmas tree, the original name for the bodhisattva of compassion was Avalokiteshvara; the "-ishvara" particle is distinctly masculine; it means "lord." When Buddhism came to China, the bodhisattva's mantle was transferred to the local feminine deity Kuan Yin. When this transference occurred, Kuan Yin became part of Buddhist cosmology and was no longer a deity in the full sense, but was instead a bodhisattva, doing the Buddha's work.

Anyway, having a robot preach the dharma is a creepy reminder of the robotic AI Jesus in George Lucas's masterful film "THX-1138." Sociologist Emile Durkheim would have had a field day with Lucas's vision of the deity: according to Durkheim, the deity basically represents and incarnates society itself, such that when someone says, "God doesn't want you to lie," he's really saying, "Society doesn't want you to lie." Lucas's Jesus is there to reinforce the social structure, making sure all the workers remain docile cogs in the greater machine.

Second link:

Who Is the UC Berkeley Puncher?

Lots and lots of good points made in this article. Some excerpts:

When 16-year-old Nick Sandmann* delivered The Smirk Seen 'Round the World last month, journalists and other liberals pounced and seized on it like the huge national news story it wasn't. The brief video of the MAGA-hatted lad smiling at activist/fabulist Nathan Phillips went viral, and within 24 hours we knew Sandmann's name, where he's from, and where he goes to school. In fact, his school had to be shut down because of all the death threats. When further video evidence appeared, proving that Sandmann didn't do anything wrong and in fact tried to defuse tensions, most of the people who threatened him and tried to get him expelled just pretended they were still right all along. It was #FakeButAccurate. That kid had to be the bad guy if he was wearing the bad hat, right? The outrage mob made a few more pathetic attempts to slander Covington Catholic, and when that didn't work, they stopped screaming about that hoax and immediately started screaming about the Jussie Smollett hoax. It was a busy month for getting angry at things that didn't actually happen.

Fast-forward to last week on the campus of UC Berkeley, and a hate crime that actually did happen. A young fellow named Hayden Williams was manning a table for Turning Point USA when he was threatened and punched (video courtesy of Campus Reform)...

[in reference to headlines about the Berkeley "puncher" hate crime, in contrast to the media's treatment of fake hate crimes as fact]

Once you notice when that word is used and when it isn't, you can't unsee it. When a Democrat or some other designated victim claims to have been attacked, there's nothing "alleged" about it. It's presented as fact. The attack happened, even if there's definitive proof it didn't happen. But if the actual victim of an actual on-camera attack isn't a designated victim, then it becomes "alleged." We wouldn't want to make any hasty assumptions, now, would we?

You can't just go around punching people for saying things you don't like. Not even in Berkeley. The cops need to arrest his guy, or explain why they haven't.

*The name Gwan-sae-eum comes from three Chinese characters (觀世音) that mean "observe-world-sounds." In other words, this bodhisattva hears the cries of suffering in the world. In Buddhism, there are many bodhisattvas in the celestial ranks, and as with saints and angels in Catholic theology, there exists a taxonomy or hierarchy, with each type of divine being serving a specific cosmic and/or redemptive function—bodhisattva of compassion, Buddha of the future, Buddha of the Western Paradise, bodhisattva of insight (Manjusri), etc.

if the gods be good

Assuming we do have Friday off, I'm thinking I might actually start my walk in the very, very, very early morning—say, around 2 a.m. It'll be dark and cold, but that's fine: while I'm in Seoul proper, illumination won't be an issue, and since I'll be walking along the riverside trail, there's no chance of getting lost. I'm also going to walk three laps around the local park, right when I start out, so as to front-load an extra three kilometers to the walk, thereby taking my total for the day over 60 km. That's going to put me at around 37.2 miles—the farthest I've ever walked, period. I'm expecting some crazy step total that surpasses 70,000.

But let's step back a bit and view this supposedly grandiose achievement from another angle. Imagine being an infantryman with a 100-pound rucksack and a 20-pound weapon, marching 25 miles through mountainous terrain in a single day. Kinda puts my own walk in perspective, doesn't it? What I'll be doing is easy-peasy by comparison to what soldiers routinely do.

Still, the walk will be a difficult one for me. Tonight, I did a modest training walk of 26,951 steps, and partway through the walk, a twinge of hip pain that I had felt Tuesday morning suddenly intensified while I was on the Han River path. Not good. I've been through weird, mysterious, obnoxious hip pain before, back when I lived in Hayang, and I'm hoping like hell that this isn't the left-hip version of that right-hip pain from years back. If things get worse over the course of the week, I may have to cancel the walk this weekend. On the bright side, I'll have what I pray will be a nice three-day break with nothing to do. We'll see.

Ozzy Man: sloth bear vs. tiger

You may not share my sense of humor, but this had me rolling:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

to Friday, or not to Friday?

I'm getting mixed signals from people as I continue my probe into whether or not our particular team, the R&D team, is getting Friday, March 1, off this week. It's a national holiday, so in theory, we ought to have it off. But where I work on the fourth floor of my building, other teams have told my supervisor that they're going to be in the office on Friday. Meanwhile, our R&D team is under new management—let's call our branch of the company Block X—and a worker from Block X told me today that all of Block X will be off on Friday. My supervisor says it's not clear, ever since R&D transferred to Block X, whether we are fully under Block X's purview, which is annoyingly vague, and I hate such ambiguity. So there's a question as to whether "all of Block X is off on Friday" applies to R&D.

You'd think a straight yes-or-no answer would be easy to extract from someone, but this company is horrible when it comes to diffusion of responsibility through bureaucracy. No one wants to take the responsibility of committing to a firm position on anything. (This is arguably a culture-wide trait in Korea, but that's a post for another time.)

If it turns out we're off Friday, I'm walking on Friday. If not, then I'm walking on Saturday.

So let it be written. So let it be done.

two reviews coming soon

About two weeks ago, I watched "Creed II," but for whatever reason, I haven't gotten around to reviewing it. Last night, I watched the now-Oscar-winning documentary "Free Solo," about Alex Honnold's free-solo climb (i.e., alone and without special equipment) of El Capitan along a 3000-foot (914-meter) face.

In the meantime, to distract you, here's Alex Honnold's TED Talk about his climb:

And here's Alex Honnold giving his expert opinion on rock-climbing in the movies:

Watching "Free Solo" just made me more pumped to try doing a nearly 58-kilometer walk this weekend. (The forecast for Saturday continues to improve.) Sure, if I succeed, my achievement will be minuscule compared to Honnold's free-solo climb, which some are hailing as "the greatest athletic achievement in history." That said, 57.8 kilometers' walking, with no break, will be a personal best for me. I hope I don't ruin my feet in the attempt.

Anyway, reviews are coming soon.

Monday, February 25, 2019

the hike might have to wait

I'm no longer sure whether I can hike out to Yangpyeong this Friday: my supervisor tells me we're not likely to get Friday off, although we might be let off early. At the same time, the weather forecast for Saturday has changed from rainy to cloudy, so if Saturday is suddenly walkable, I can, in theory, still do the long trek this weekend; I'd simply be training into work on Monday morning instead of training to my apartment on Sunday.

Anyway, Friday's not looking good. Saturday is still a gamble with a 10% chance of rain currently on the board, and things might shift positively or negatively over the next few days. We'll see. Meanwhile, I'll do my training walks as if I were going this weekend.

Ozzy Man does lions

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Colion Noir on Jussie Smollett

Worth six minutes of your time:

The message isn't particularly new: the media have long been shit-stirrers who want to see the public eat itself. For all their pious claims about truth, objectivity, fairness, and the speaking of truth to power, they're just a particularly vicious species of rat. Noir's bleak perspective regarding the near-impossibility of finding reliable news sources these days is well taken.

So let's bring back those old 1960s-era liberal mottos—which modern liberals have completely forgotten—of "Stick it to the Man" and "Trust No One Over 30." Authority figures, like those in government and the media, are bullshit. Older people (and yeah, at this point, I have to include myself), are also bullshit. So don't trust this blog, either.

cabbie convo

I found myself in a cab Saturday afternoon, trundling over to the office because I had work to do, and because my scheduled long walk had been canceled thanks to my walk partner's hangover. Occasionally, I'll find myself sitting with a driver who wants to talk, and this driver gave me the usual set of ask-the-foreigner questions: what was my job, how old was I, was I married, why wasn't I married, etc. Because this guy seemed friendly and tolerant, I expressed some exasperation about the social pressure, in Korea, to get married. "Oh, that's been changing," he said. "These days, if young people get married, that's fine; if they don't get married, that's also fine." I mentioned the loss-of-freedom issue as one reason why I've been hesitating to get married, and the cabbie, surprisingly, said this: "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't get married. You lose all your freedom."

Obviously, loss of freedom gets reinterpreted differently by married people, who normally say (1) the sacrifice is worth it, and (2) losing one's freedom means gaining something more—a sharing of souls, constant companionship, a life-long education about human nature, etc. Across French, American, and Korean cultures, I've often heard the same pro-marriage thoughts expressed in only slightly different ways. For the happily married, marriage is always worth it—worth the effort, worth the pain, worth the compromises, worth the replacement of one's original dreams with new dreams. This cabbie's remark was the first time in a while that I'd heard something other than the usual programmed response: for some people, marriage isn't worth it. The cabbie sounded weary when he said this; his remark hinted at a long and morbidly fascinating story.

It was a pleasant conversation, all in all. I almost felt as if I'd made a new friend within a few minutes, but in the end, I paid my fare, offered a more-amicable-than-usual valediction, stepped out of the car, and went to the office.

I knew it

Saturday, February 23, 2019

the 50K challenge

Male discourse is almost always about one-upsmanship, according to linguist Deborah Tannen, who has made a study of male/female discourse. Male one-upsmanship is linked to male hierarchical thinking because of an unconscious focus on things like status, reputation, etc. Feminine discourse is more devoted to creating social bonds: the literal content of what women say is, according to Tannen, far less important than the use of communication as a gesture of care, empathy, concern, etc. For Tannen, men engage in "report-talk" (which is what I'm doing by writing in this lecturing tone right now); women, meanwhile, engage in "rapport-talk" to create and reinforce ties of friendship and sisterhood.

I once wrote a blog post about a TEDx Talk that actually changed my behavior. The talk persuaded me to stop using so many paper towels after washing my hands in a public restroom. Charles read my post and commented that he normally never uses more than one paper towel, and that "I will often go without paper towels at all. I shake and then fan." You see the one-upsmanship: I'm down to one paper towel, and proud of myself for it, but Charles is (often) down to zero. He couches his good deed in modest language, but it's one-upsmanship all the same. Because men. (I'm not saying I mind this, by the way; that would be hypocritical seeing as I've played the one-upping game myself.)

At dinner yesterday evening, we were, at one point, talking about distance walking. I mentioned my recent 35-kilometer walk, and fellow guest Patrick said he once had to do a 50-kilometer walk as part of a company function. He resented the hell out of doing such a walk, but he did it, and apparently without breaks. So: Patrick outdid me.

I once did a 30-some-mile walk from Troutdale to Cascade Locks, Oregon, back in 2008. This was part of my abortive attempt at crossing the mainland USA. That's a bit over 50 kilometers, but I had a 60-pound pack on my back and did take maybe a 90-minute nap after I'd gone roughly two-thirds of the final distance. So I can't say that that walk trumps Patrick's.

In 2017, during my trans-Korea walk, I had a day where I walked over 60,000 steps. Had I been going at a steady pace all day long, I'd have said that that converted to about 50 kilometers of walking, but I know myself well enough to know that my walking speed drops off as the day progresses, so despite the 60K steps, that almost certainly wasn't a 50K day.

Therefore, as the human ego demands, I hereby challenge myself to do an over-50-km walk, with no breaks, in a single go. I think I already have a route that I can walk: the same 60-kilometer Seoul-to-Yangpyeong route that I just did over two days. I'll walk the route from early morning to nighttime, and by the time I reach the River House Motel, I'll be exhausted and will probably need to stay there for two nights to give my feet a chance to stop screaming. I might do this walk this coming March 1st weekend (we're off on Friday, I believe, although my company doesn't always believe in giving its employees the national holidays), but rain is forecast for Saturday and Sunday, so I'll have to think carefully about this, especially as the weather forecast might suddenly change, as often happens in mountainous countries. I could walk on Friday, then spend Saturday and part of Sunday convalescing, training back to Seoul Sunday morning or afternoon. At a guess, I'll end up with one or more blisters after such an abusive walk, but the challenge has formed in my head, and now I want to do it.

Just so I can lord it over Patrick. Heh.

I've plotted out the route from my apartment to the River House in Yangpyeong: 57.71 km, or 35.86 miles. Guess I've got my training cut out for me this coming week.

a somewhat awkward criticism of socialism

Watch the following video, which points the finger and goes "Ha ha!" at Panera's recent, misguided attempt at a "pay what you can" business model that apparently had the aim of feeding the poor. I think the video goes wrong in labeling Panera's experiment as out-and-out socialist, but the video does make some legitimate points about the overall sustainability of the socialist economic model.

If you found the presenter's mannerisms smug and irritating, I'm right with you. I wasn't a fan of the woman's self-righteous, snotty intonation. But form aside, the content of the video was interesting, especially in the way it tackled Marx's "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Ultimately, I think that people who complain about the ills of capitalism are obliged to go further and provide solutions to those ills. So far, the only "solutions" I've heard have been along the lines of central planning and command economies—implemented socialism, implemented communism, Kimism, Chavismo, Madurismo, etc. These models lead to death and misery on a massive scale, but idiots like Bernie Sanders, et al., keep propping these models up and calling them viable.

No economic system is without its problems. The same goes for government. Humans are assholes, and their assholery seeps into any and every system they create. Systems that take this badness into account fare better than systems that misread human nature as fundamentally good. Systems that prioritize sharing and selflessness over competition and selfishness lead, ironically, to disaster at the societal level. Systems that do the opposite don't. The evidence of this is strewn throughout history. Someone will, of course, bring up Scandinavia (since he can't bring up Venezuela anymore) as a model of successful redistributionism. The problem is that the Scandinavian economies are market economies, with higher ratings for things like entrepreneurship than the US's ratings. The only three sectors of Scandinavian economies that have any big-government redistributionism about them are (1) health care, (2) welfare, and (3) education. Within a free-market capitalist context, little islands of quasi-socialism can flourish, but never the other way around. People preach socialism in capitalistic societies because they are largely immune to the consequences of their own ideology. Again and again, leftists blithely ignore the warnings coming from people who have defected or otherwise escaped from places like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, or certain spots in Eastern Europe—people who repeatedly say, "Don't go down that road!" Reality seems not to impinge upon these useful idiots, which is why someone like Bernie Sanders enjoys a platform at all.

Conclusion: the above video somewhat critiques socialism insofar as it attacks the same misapprehension of human nature that drives socialist philosophy. Where the video goes wrong is in its assumption that the Panera experiment represents out-and-out socialism. I realize this puts me, ironically, in the position of a defender of socialism who, upon hearing about Venezuela's failure, says, "But that's because it wasn't pure socialism!" Please don't confuse me with such a person. I'd rather have widespread capitalism and its attendant existential miseries than socialism and its far worse miseries.

But, hey: if you have the perfect plan for minimizing human misery and maximizing human flourishing, let's hear it. The comments section is yours.

ADDENDUM: on a personal note, when I was teaching in northern Virginia, I wasn't far from a local Panera that some of my colleagues loved. In fact, I'd say that, at least at the time, Paneras were ubiquitous, and they seemed almost like Starbucks knockoffs that were deeply confused about what their emphasis ought to be: bread? salad? coffee? soup? cake? I left America long before this recent experiment ever happened, so I only knew Panera to be a regular "bakery-café fast-casual restaurant," to use Wikipedia's term. I have to say that I was never that impressed with the chain: their bread always struck me as churned-out, assembly-line style, and mediocre at best. Maybe it's time for Panera to wither and die. Then again, to be fair, Panera engages in other charity work that I find laudable. From Wikipedia:
Community giving

The Day-End Dough-Nation program provides unsold bread and baked goods to local area hunger relief agencies and charities. Panera Bread bakery-cafes donate $100 million worth of unsold bread and baked goods annually to local organizations in need. Panera also supports events held by nonprofit organizations serving those in need by donating a certificate or fresh bakery products.
Panera should probably stick to this more traditional charity model.

today's walk: canceled

I got news this morning from Ben, my walking partner, that he's too hung-over to go walking today, so our walk from Yeouido to my place has been canceled. That kind of comes as a relief, given that I'm in the process of off-loading much of what I ate last night, intestinally speaking.

So I'll be preponing* my trip to the office from tomorrow to today.

*What—you don't know the verb to prepone? It's the opposite of to postpone, so it means "to bring forward in time," the opposite of "to delay." Prepone is commonly used in India.

a parade of one

What brightens one's day quite like seeing this little guy come strutting out onto the baggage-claim conveyor belt, am I right?

Credit goes to my buddy Tom, who showed us all the video on his phone last night. The above video, which is a bit clearer, was pulled off YouTube and isn't from Tom's link. And by the way, this isn't the only incident of its type.

dîner, vendredi soir

Friday evening's dinner in pictures.

Charles and his lovely wife Hyunjin live in the Seoul National University neighborhood; being a professor at SNU, my friend benefits from on-campus housing. As a matter of tradition, Charles, our mutual friends Tom and Patrick, and I have been having these get-togethers over the past few years, either at Charles's comparatively roomy place or at whatever cramped hovel I happen to be stuffed into. I've documented most or all of these get-togethers on this blog if you're inclined to go searching for those records.

Friday night, we continued our tradition with another such gathering. Charles and Hyunjin prepped several things for the meal, and I brought my own addition to dinner as well. For Charles and Hyunjin, the prep was Schweinshaxe (ham hock), pan-fried Brussels sprouts with onions and (I think) Korean-style bacon, a kind of insalata mista, homemade sauerkraut and, for dessert, a beautiful from-scratch chocolate cake with cream-cheese frosting (Charles tells me there's a technical difference between frosting and icing, but I'm not buying it). Patrick (I think it was Patrick) brought over many types of beer for the drinkers to sample. I brought my huge load of Spaetzle, some of which I served plain, and most of which I served with sausage, Alfredo cream sauce, and fresh parsley. I of course brought far too much food, and because I was having some gastric issues that evening, I didn't stuff myself quite as much as I might have had my internal pipes been emptier. Tom, for his part, brought himself.

Here's the besausaged, cream-sauced Spaetzle:

Very nicely cooked Brussels sprouts (left side of the plate, about 10 o'clock) and a most excellent insalata mista (foreground) that I regret not eating more of:

Next—a blurred picture of the Schweinshaxe being carved by Charles:

Another shot of my creamy Spaetzle:

A shot of the plain Spaetzle, which served as a bed for the ham:

Below is Round Two of dinner for me—essentially, my own food plus Charles's succulent ham and Hyunjin's sauerkraut, which took her 2.5 weeks to prep and turned out fantastic:

I don't have the patience to prep kraut the right way, so I normally follow Brian Boitano's quickfire recipe for kraut in 15-20 minutes (see results here).

Below—essentially the same shot as the previous one:

I did love the Alfredo Spaetzle. I wasn't as jazzed about the plain Spaetzle, but that may have had more to do with the condition of my stomach than with my taste preference.

Tom, nearing 50 like me, shows off his old-man glasses:

Patrick, much younger, shows off his bifocals (and get a load of that tee shirt):

Husband and wife, founders of our feast:

The final two photos in this brief essay are of Charles's homemade chocolate cake, which he decided to top with a cream-cheese frosting instead of chocolate icing. I'm a chocoholic, and I probably would have preferred a chocolate icing, but the cream-cheese frosting was damn good, so I'll somehow find it in my heart to forgive my friend for his racist choice of white over dark brown. I ended up taking a huge chunk of that cake home with me; it's going to be gone by Sunday night.

Below—another shot of the cake. The cake itself was absolutely perfect in its consistency. Charles had half-jokingly proposed that he'd be making a cake that would be better than what you find in a typical Korean bakery, i.e., a cake with too little butter, egg, and sugar. I'd say he succeeded. Pleasantly fragrant and infused with a perfect amount of chocolate, Charles's cake was moist through and through, impeccably textured. As I type this, a huge chunk of that cake is sitting on my kitchen table, whispering sexily in my ear. I'm doing a long walk on Saturday, though, so I won't be eating any cake until I'm back from my day hike.

It was a pleasant evening. Tom noted that I seemed quiet, and that's probably a combination of my being tired and, once again, my lack of anything to contribute when dinner-table conversation turns to varieties of beer. I know little to nothing about alcohol, and by this point, it's becoming a bit of a running joke that four out of five people at the table will want to talk at length about the beers they're drinking, so there's little I can do but listen. It was fun watching Hyunjin and Patrick, in particular, get tipsier as the night went on; Patrick entertained us toward the end of the evening by suddenly springing a nosebleed. He grabbed a couple tissues and plugged his nostrils until the bleeding subsided. It could well be that one of Tom's many jokes had made Patrick laugh hard enough to have a minor blood-gusher, but we have no video to confirm how, exactly, the bleed happened.

I took my leave of the group, between dinner and dessert, to run across the street to a large assembly hall so I could, uh, make room for dessert. I knew I'd be too noisy and smelly using Charles's facilities, which is why I opted to perform my ritual à distance. Things were a bit awkward at the assembly hall: the front desk, staffed by a lone male receptionist, was diagonally across from the men's room, and not that far away from it. All the surfaces in the lobby—walls, floors, etc.—were hard and shiny, so any noise I made in the toilet cubicle was going to reverberate lustily throughout the first floor. Knowing this, I went into the men's room all the same. When I finished my business and was heading out, I brazenly changed direction and marched straight up to the receptionist to ask how long the building would be open. He said the lobby/atrium area was open twenty-four hours, but other parts of the building would close early. The restaurant just off the lobby, for example, would close at 9 p.m. I had asked the question in case I needed to visit the loo a second time; that turned out not to be necessary, thank Cthulhu.

Tom, Patrick, and I all decided to cab home; this meant a separate cab for each of us. I had planned to use the Kakao Taxi app to hail a cab, but one came sailing down the street, and Tom insisted that I be the one to hop in it because I was carrying my bulky Costco bag. There was one last round of handshakes as I squeezed inside the cab. While I was riding back to my place, Charles sent out a chat message thanking us for coming. We're all looking forward to gathering again at some point, possibly this spring. No idea where we'll meet or what the menu will be, but it ought to be a good time.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Spaetzle preview

I had no idea how labor-intensive making Spaetzle would be. It could simply be that the batter I made was too thick; in various YouTube videos, the batter looked much softer and easier to push through the holes of a cheese grater, slotted spoon, or Spaetzle press. The recipe I followed was a simple and awesome one from Chef Steps (see here); the only alteration I made was to add about a cup of milk to soften the recalcitrant dough. Making pasta with sour cream as the fatty component struck me as awesome and novel, as well as utterly German: even more than Americans, Germans love their heavy, greasy, fatty foods. Subtlety is foreign to most German cuisine, I'd say: a German's love of simple meat and potatoes rivals the same love found among Yanks and Irishmen.

I didn't begin cooking until after midnight. Don't ask me why; I was just more tired and sluggish than usual. To make the pasta, you throw together dry ingredients like flour, salt, and nutmeg. Your wet ingredients are whisked together in a separate bowl: sour cream, whole eggs, and egg yolks. The eggs turn out to be super-important because the egginess of the batter is what helps it cook to doneness so rapidly—within ten seconds of hitting the boiling water, each bit of Spaetzle is done and already floating to the surface.

Sifting the dry ingredients and whisking the wet ingredients weren't problems. Adding the wet to the dry while using a whisk proved to be both difficult and unwise: a lot of dough—and that stuff was damn sticky—ended up trapped inside the whisk, doing nobody any good. I switched to using two forks to mix the dough the rest of the way; for anyone thinking of attempting Spaetzle, I recommend the two-fork method. Much easier and faster.

The next step, now that I had a bowlful of sticky dough, was to get a pot of water boiling, set up a "catch" container for the boiled pasta, and push the dough through a large-holed strainer into boiling water to create the little, booger-shaped dollops and droplets of dough that make Spaetzle what it is (yeah, I said "booger"; the word is strangely appetizing). Luckily, I had a cheap mandolin with the perfect holes in it, almost as if the mandolin had been specifically designed for Spaetzle. I got out a rice paddle to scoop the dough, glopped a lump of dough onto the middle part of my mandolin, held the mandolin-with-dough over the pot of boiling water, then used the rice paddle to puuuuuusssshh the dough through those holes.

It was hard work. Because the mandolin was made of thin plastic, I had to hold it in the air over the boiling water—instead of laying it straight on the pot—so as to avoid melting the plastic. No dough seemed to fall through the holes at first; it took several rounds of pushing with the paddle before any dough began to drop into the water. But once the dough did start to drop, it dropped fast. When the pile of dough had been entirely strained through the mandolin's holes, I picked up a slotted spoon and scooped the little dough-boogers out of the water, dropping them into the "catch" container. Repeat, repeat, repeat. After an eternity, I had finally pushed through the final pile of dough.

But the process wasn't over. You're supposed to pan-fry your cooked Spaetzle to give it some golden-brown coloring. To that end, I slapped some butter and olive oil into a pan, but instead of stopping at the golden-brown stage, I took the first fourth of my cooked pasta and deep-fried the fuck out of it: it was essentially popcorn by the time I was done. This was a deliberate move on my part, an attempt at coaxing out as much flavor as possible from the dough before moving on to the final three-fourths of the Spaetzle. I wanted to impart some variation in color and texture... and I have to say that, when I crunched into one of the little bits of fried pasta, it tasted magnificent. I had sampled a bit of the pasta after the boiling stage, and it didn't taste like much, and that's when I realized that pan-frying was an absolutely necessary step in the cooking of Spaetzle.

Not wanting to serve Spaetzle popcorn at the potluck dinner, though, I fried the remaining pasta in the standard way, going progressively easier on the heat with each successive batch, thus giving me a mix of Spaetzle ranging from crunchy to doughy—all of it amazingly tasty. I'm actually afraid that, when I finish the dough off with sausage and Alfredo sauce at Charles's place, the pasta is going to fade into the background. That would be disappointing, especially after all the work I've done. I might see about reserving some of the Spaetzle to be eaten in a more classic way, i.e., not mixed with sausage and covered in Alfredo sauce, but quickly (re)fried in butter and used as a side dish, or as a bed for the Schweinshaxe.

Here are some pics of last night's labor of love. First up: the orange mandolin, the bowl of sticky dough, and the rice paddle. Note the mandolin's holes in its center—perfect for straining Spaetzle dough. Note, too, the boiled pasta in the upper-left corner of the pic:

I tried four or five times to get the next damn photo. This one still isn't focused enough (sorry), but it'll have to do. Here's my "scoop" shot:

This next pic, below, also took several tries. Here's the underside of the mandolin, with Spaetzle boogers in mid-drip:

And here's what boiled Spaetzle looks like. All in all, I'd say the little bastards came out perfectly. They almost remind me of tiny little fried clams:

I had to get a shot of the first batch of popcorn-fried Spaetzle. The taste and crunch were amazing. Hooray for sour-cream-and-egg dough!

Final shot: here's everything, all mixed together. I fried the boiled pasta in batches, lessening the intensity of the heat and the duration of the fry with each successive batch, from deep-fried to barely fried. If you look carefully at the photo below, you can see that most of the pasta has that browned-on-one-side look of the more classical pan-fry. I don't know whether the variation in texture and flavor will be perceptible once I finish the dish off with sausage, cream sauce, and parsley, but when I tasted my handiwork last night, I thought it was lovely. Many thanks to Chef Steps for the recipe.

I'll slap up shots of the completed dish tonight.

WTI: Social-justice Warrior Therapist

Loved this. All the illogicality wrapped up in a neat little package:

WTI: Burglars for Gun Control

Heh. As I showed you previously, We the Internet has satirized the extreme end of the rabid, pro-2A* gun lobby. But WTI has also created comedy sketches that are sympathetic to the average Joe and Jane Gun Owner, to wit:

*2A = Second Amendment

Thursday, February 21, 2019

tonight, my love, we make Spaetzle

I'm going to a potluck gathering tomorrow evening at my buddy Charles's residence. Dinner was originally going to be Korean-themed, but when that didn't work out, the theme switched over to German. Charles and his wife will be prepping Schweinshaxe (ham hock), kraut, potatoes, and a chocolate cake. I told Charles I'd bring something, too. When we were still thinking along Korean lines, I had thought about doing chicken-and-shrimp fried rice, but with the switch to something more Teutonic, I decided to go for a French Alsatian dish. Looking up plats alsaciens on Google brought up the amusing fact that Spaetzle is just as Alsatian as it is German—not surprising, given the history of Alsace. So: Spaetzle it is.

I had originally thought about making my own sausage to add to the Spaetzle, but while I was at SSG Food Market, I saw and picked up some packages of Sicilian sausage and French chipolatas (a favorite of the wizard Albus Dumbledore). The latter were actual chipolatas, not the ersatz, Bratwurst-wannabe crap they used to sell at Costco. The sausages came in 300-gram packages; I bought four. When I cooked everything down, I had 700 grams of meat left over, with almost all of the fat dabbed away. I'll be making over a kilo of Spaetzle pasta tonight, then finishing the dish at Charles's place, assuming there's room for me to do so. (I might bring along a gas range and a can of butane in case the kitchenette is crowded.)

The Spaetzle will get an Italian twist when I stir in an Alfredo sauce—genuine Alfredo this time, not my usual Gorgonzola faux-Fredo. Fresh parsley will act as the flourish. To that end, I've got two blocks of Parmigiano Reggiano to grind up, a brick of demi-sel butter, a good bit of heavy cream, and a small bunch of parsley. Hauling all of this with me will mean taking a cab to Charles's place. I'm too lazy to opt for public transportation in such situations.

Am looking forward to good eats and good times tomorrow.

did I falsely accuse Jeff?

In a recent comment over at Jeff Hodges's excellent blog, Gypsy Scholar, I jokingly brought up an old bone to pick with him when he put out a poem. You can see our exchange here. For the TL;DR crowd: I accused Jeff of having critiqued some of my past poetry by saying that every line of a poem needs to begin with a capital letter (a "rule" with which I and e.e. cummings vehemently disagree). Jeff claimed not to recall having made such a criticism and, rightly, asked for proof. The problem for me is that I've written plenty of poems on this blog, and they're all buried in a pile of blog posts that, after nearly sixteen years of blogging, is over 12,000 strong. When I told Jeff that digging around for the comment in question would take some time, Jeff replied that "Sometimes, Google works."

Except it doesn't when it comes to searching for specific comments. Blogger comments don't register on Google—at all. I just tried an experiment in which I asked Google to search for a specific comment by John McCrarey: "Um, could this be the beginning of a true romance? Has all the makings of a love story..." Ideally, such a search string should return exactly one search result, but I got nothing, as I knew I would because I've tried using Google to search comments before. And Blogger itself has no tools for searching a blog's comment threads.

Anyway, I'm determined to find Jeff's comment, which I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucinate. (Besides, it's in keeping with Jeff's other occasional attempts, in my comments section, to correct my English. He's a critical one, that Jeff.) An intra-blog search of the word "poem" didn't produce any results, but I'm not done digging. Eventually, though, I may have to concede defeat and retract my accusation, however unjust(!) such a retraction might be.

catch-up viewing: more WTI

Man, I'm loving this We the Internet channel. The best weapon in a verbal battle is always humor. I'm in catch-up-viewing mode right now, so even if it hurts your eyes, I'll likely be dumping more of these WTI videos onto the blog for the next little while.

November 2018:

A few "don'ts" for Democrats if they're hoping to win back more of the government:

February 2016:

The left was vociferous about protesting US military action when Dubya was president. What happened? No love for Obama, a.k.a. President Drone Strike?

June 2017:

For the economics-challenged—here's why a $15 minimum wage isn't viable:

Sure enough, businesses across the country have been firing staff in states where the wage hike has been implemented. What's better: being at a low-paying job from which you can eventually ratchet upward, or having no job at all? If you're unable or unwilling to answer that, then don't be surprised as more and more workers get replaced by automation.

WTI also lampoons the right. Here's their take on open-carry folks:

Humor for everyone.

Glenn Reynolds on Never Trumpers

Glenn Reynolds recently offered up a mini-rant-ish analysis of the Never Trumper mindset. I largely agree with what he says: most Never Trumpers can't accept Trump for superficial reasons tied to outdated notions of decorum. Like the leftists who hate Trump, they fixate on his words and not his deeds. Refusing to move into the modern arena, they can't seem to understand that, when one side dispenses with civility, you can't stand around being noble so as not to "sink down to their level." Maybe that's the rationale of the wimpy kid who gets his ass kicked by a bully: "Well, at least I was the better man." That's the attitude of the weak and the feckless. But for those actually concerned about the direction the country has taken, the time has come to stand up, get pugnacious, and sock the bully in the fucking jaw.

Here's Reynolds's take, in part (edited for style):

...although NeverTrumpers talk a lot about morality and principles, their actual beef seems to be a combination of aesthetic dislike of Trump’s messaging style, and resentment that he’s not hiring them and never will hire them. I suppose a lot of people confuse their own social standing and economic prospects with morality, but color me unpersuaded.

Perhaps in 2016, you could imagine that Trump would be such an awful president that you had a moral duty to oppose him. But in 2019, it’s obvious that that’s not the case. In fact, he’s pretty darn successful. Instead of gay concentration camps, he’s trying to end discrimination against gays worldwide. Instead of being a warmonger, he’s now ending wars — and getting grief about it from NeverTrumpers. The Russia-collusion thing was always twaddle, but nobody is even pretending otherwise anymore. And Trump’s background and personal life certainly don’t stand out as compared to many other occupants of the Oval Office whom the establishment deemed entirely acceptable.

So, again, what exactly is the moral foundation of your very, very moral, Solzhenitsyn-like stance?

What, indeed?

another hilarious vid on cultural appropriation

This We the Internet video points out an irony I've meditated on for a long time: the extremes on the left and the right seem, weirdly, to be in agreement that cultural balkanization is the way to go. Think about it: white supremacists would rather that black college students be housed in separate accommodations on campus. Black college students, turned off by perceived white privilege and racism, demand their own safe spaces on campus in which to live and learn as people who are separate but equal. Neither side seems particularly interested in diversity, which was the buzz word to end all buzz words only a few years ago.

the stifling of on-campus free speech

The enstupidation of my country continues apace, and the cancer is arguably at its worst in our universities. Originally crucibles of free thought, aggressive inquiry, and the avid exchange of ideas, American universities have morphed into cesspools of toxic, lock-step, ideological groupthink where everything is PC doctrine, identity politics, and—as the following 2017 We the Internet videos contend—weaponized victimization. There's no quicker way to cultivate a massive crop of pussies than to teach everyone to be aggrieved.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3 (somewhat more hopeful than the previous two vids):

5 Outrageous Cases of Campus Censorship:

To paraphrase Alita: fuck your grievances.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

brief but humorous French-language encounter

I was shopping at the SSG Food Market close to my office this evening. When I got to the cheese section to buy some Parmigiano Reggiano, a staffer saw me grab the cheese, and she asked in Korean whether I liked hard cheeses in general. I told her I was making a dish that required Parmigiano, so I wouldn't need any other cheeses. I then asked her where I could find butter that was less expensive than the W22,000 brick of butter sitting on a lower rack, and she guided me around the dairy stand to where the cheap butters were. "Do you prefer salted or unsalted?" she asked. I told her it didn't matter, so she picked up a small brick labeled "Le beurre demi-sel," i.e., half-salted butter, and translated as "slightly salted butter" on the package. I thanked her, but I noticed her reaction when I spoke the words "beurre demi-sel" aloud in French. So I asked her in French whether she spoke French.

"Oui," she said.

And she did not elaborate.

At that moment, I thought better of torturing her by peppering her with questions in French. When someone responds with a simple "Oui" and says nothing more, she's probably hoping not be to quizzed on her French ability. People with actual ability usually rattle on about how they lived in France or in some other French-speaking country, and/or they talk about their education, which may have involved learning French. A curt "Oui" comes off, to me at least, like an "And please ask me nothing further." So I let the matter drop.

I could be wrong about this woman, of course; she might be native-level fluent in French, and perhaps she didn't want to torture me by displaying her overwhelmingly superior mastery of the language. But I doubt that very much.

my results

I thought I typed at a rate of about 60-80 words per minute—reliably steady, but not especially fast. After a conversation with a fast-typing coworker, I decided to look up an online typing test to gauge my actual speed. I found right away; the test is simply an on-screen version of typing tests that I'd taken with actual paper and an actual typewriter, years and years ago. Turns out I'm faster than I thought:

My coworker was also intrigued, so she took the test as well. She raw score was 93, and she made only one error, so her adjusted score was 92. While I'm miffed that her error rate was so much lower than mine, I console myself by noting that, while I did make errors while typing, I also corrected them on the fly, so my final manuscript was, I think, pretty darn near perfect.

Pro level. Off-the-scale pro level. Sometimes, I amaze even myself.


Bill Keezer strikes again with a link to another meme:

Some border states are apparently suing to counteract President Trump's declaration of a state of emergency. Ostensibly, this is because the states are suddenly concerned about the US government's trampling of their sovereignty. Interesting, given that the influx of illegal immigrants is itself a gross violation of both state and national sovereignty. Maybe these states should consider building walls to keep the US military out of their borders if they're that upset about unwelcome people streaming in without permission.

Gotta love pretzel logic.

"Jonathan Pie" on cultural appropriation

Jonathan Pie is, from what I gather, the nom de plume of a BBC-based comedian named Tom Walker who engages in lampoon/rant comedy. Pie/Walker has roasted Donald Trump's tweets before, but he also takes time to castigate the idiocy of the left, as you'll see in the following video, which is part of a show in which he takes on certain leftist sacred cows—issues the left likes to virtue-signal about as a way of demonstrating its "woke"ness. In this video, the issue at hand is good ol' cultural appropriation.

Full disclosure: I've written about Jonathan Pie before, but that was before I was aware he was actually Tom Walker. I was perceptive enough to realize, at the time, that he was in character, but I didn't realize that "Jonathan Pie" was the actor's nom de plume.

more Béchamel-free mac and cheese

As you know, I'm always on the lookout for mac-and-cheese recipes that don't go the conventional route by using a roux-turned-Béchamel.* I've already shown you a custard-ish alternative (that I have yet to try myself) and the Iron Chef Mike Symon method that uses double cream (which, on its own, is an incredible substance). Below, I'm embedding a video that shows you a suspiciously Alfredo-like method for making what the lady is calling an "adult" mac and cheese:

Because I've made Alfredo, and my own faux-Fredo twist on Alfredo, so many times, I feel as if I've already made this style of mac and cheese before, even though I actually haven't. In the video, Molly notes that her sauce is very close to a cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper), which is markedly different from an Alfredo. Still, her method doesn't look alien to me at all, despite all the black pepper.

*In case you haven't been paying attention this entire time: a roux (pronounced "roo") is normally a combination of equal volumes of fat (oil or butter) and flour. A Béchamel is the white sauce that results from cooking your roux until it loses its raw-flour smell, then slowly adding milk until the pasty roux smooths out into a creamy sauce. A Béchamel is one of the five "mother sauces" in French cooking. The term "mother" means that the basic sauce gives birth to hundreds of variants as you continue to add elements to it.

We the Internet

We the Internet! How did I miss these guys?

From 2016:

Just a few days ago:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

memes (h/t Bill Keezer)


when merely telling the truth is enough to kick the hornets' nest

I doubt leftie journalists like it when their cherished slogan, Speak truth to power, gets thrown back in their faces, especially since they're the actual power. Now, along comes CBS News correspondent Lara Logan who, in a recent interview, simply spoke a truth that non-journalists have known since forever:

CBS News Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan critiqued the international “liberal” media while holding up outlets like Breitbart as the opposite side of the coin.

Logan spoke to retired Navy SEAL Mike Ritland about a variety of topics on Friday for his Mike Drop podcast (h/t Breitbart), and the conversation eventually turned towards her agreement with Ritland that “the media everywhere is mostly liberal, not just the U.S.” As Logan lamented that voter registration among journalists shows that the media is out of balance, she came with a metaphor to explain how she believes the press is tinged by the sameness of opinion.
“Visually, anyone who’s ever been to Israel and been to the Wailing Wall has seen that the women have this tiny little spot in front of the wall to pray, and the rest of the wall is for the men. To me, that’s a great representation of the American media, is that in this tiny little corner where the women pray you’ve got Breitbart and Fox News and a few others, and from there on, you have CBS, ABC, NBC, Huffington Post, Politico, whatever, right? All of them.

And that’s a problem for me, because even if it was reversed, if it was vastly mostly on the right, that would also be a problem for me. My experience has been that the more opinions you have, the more ways that you look at everything in life.”
Logan continued by saying President Donald Trump‘s press coverage is a case in point of how the media produces a “distortion” by boiling things down so that “there’s no grey. It’s all one way.”

“If it doesn’t match real life,” Logan said, “something’s wrong.”

The conversation went on with Logan citing recent comments from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, saying the media has “abandoned our pretense or at least the effort to be objective.”

As she argued that media sources on the left and right regularly push their preferred narratives and “do terrible things,” Logan determined that the weight of the liberal media overwhelms “the other side” unless people actively seek outlets like Breitbart.

The discussion continued with Logan trashing news reports based on single, anonymous government sources, calling it an abandonment of journalistic standards.

“That’s not journalism, that’s horseshit,” Logan said. “Responsibility for fake news begins with us. We bear some responsibility for that, and we’re not taking ownership of that and addressing it. We just want to blame it all on somebody else.”

Towards the end of the interview, Logan seemed to acknowledge that some will see her remarks as controversial, saying “this interview is professional suicide for me.”

I don't think Logan goes far enough, frankly. She hedges when she says, "We bear some responsibility for [fake news]." [emphasis added] I'd say that she and her ilk bear most of the responsibility. Sure, there's fake news emanating from the right, but not at nearly the same rate and volume. In any event, we live in an era in which Logan's admission comes off as revolutionary, even though it is, in reality, trivially true.

Instapundit quotes 2006-era Bill Clinton as to why the media are so leftist:

…[Bill Clinton] said Democrats of his generation tend to be naive about new media realities. There is an expectation among Democrats that establishment old media organizations are de facto allies — and will rebut political accusations and serve as referees on new-media excesses.

“We’re all that way, and I think a part of it is we grew up in the ’60s and the press led us against the war and the press led us on civil rights and the press led us on Watergate,” Clinton said. “Those of us of a certain age grew up with this almost unrealistic set of expectations.”

People in the alt-media world contend that the legacy media are dying, but in my view, they're not dying fast enough, and they still have too much of the US public hypnotized into thinking their word is gospel. Sad, as a certain spelling-challenged tweeter likes to expostulate.

ADDENDUM: Why Does the MSM Keep Falling for Obvious Hoaxes? Because The Narrative matters more than truth, that's why.

Owen Benjamin on dialogue

Comedian Owen Benjamin makes an interesting dichotomy, one that puts liberals and conservatives on one side, and the left on the other. Hear him out—especially if, like me, you're likely to conflate liberals with leftists. Now I'm left to wonder whether others actually subscribe to Benjamin's dichotomy.

NB: I've now watched a few of Owen Benjamin's videos, and I'm not entirely comfortable with him. He says he's playing the role of the un-PC troll just to get a rise out of PC ninnies, but there are times when I think his act isn't really an act. In one comedy special, where he did standup in Canada, much of his routine was devoted to sodomy, almost to the point where I thought he was obsessed with the topic. In other video clips of him, I've watched him casually toss about homophobic phrases like "fuckin' faggot" that make me wonder whether this really is an act. So I'm trying to give Benjamin the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not that comfortable with his notion of comedy, especially if it's merely rooted in the urge to troll people. I understand the desire to bait and provoke the congenitally oversensitive, but for me at least, there's got to be more than that fueling one's approach to humor.

Japanese food redux

Our five Brits engage in a head-to-head Japanese-food battle. The three non-chefs do the cooking while the two professional chefs do the judging. Note the part where Barry declares he's going to try to do something a Michelin-level Japanese chef would do. He gets called an idiot for his trouble, but I give Barry credit for having the cojones to try this.

Next up: a head-to-head, chef-versus-chef Japanese-food battle.

Monday, February 18, 2019

PJW on PewDiePie and much more

A most excellent January 29 rant from Paul Joseph Watson covering PewDiePie, fake news, and the karmic de-platforming of liberal journalists (good riddance).

"Alita: Battle Angel": review

[NB: no real spoilers.]

2019's "Alita: Battle Angel" is directed by Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi," "Desperado," "Sin City," etc.) and produced by James Cameron, who also had a hand with the script. It's based on a 1990s-era manga by Yukito Kishiro titled Gunnm (yep—that's the spelling; you figure out how to pronounce that). An animé based on the manga came out years ago, but this is the first attempt at a "live action" rendering of the story.*

"Alita" takes place in the year 2563. A great war called The Fall occurred centuries earlier, and the planet has effectively divided itself into a unified-but-decaying polyglot megalopolis called Iron City, on the ground where the poor and powerless live, and an enormous floating city for the rich and privileged called Zalem (think: "Elysium"). Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a cybernetics and robotics expert, routinely visits the massive and ever-growing junk pile beneath Zalem in search of robot parts. During one such scavenger hunt, he finds the intact head and partial torso of a special cyborg—a young woman whose cranium contains a living human brain. He takes the cyborg back to his grungy lab, where he normally performs free repairs for many of Iron City's numerous cyborgs, and attaches the woman to a fully realized body. The young woman wakes up, and Dr. Ido names her Alita (Rosa Salazar), after his own daughter, who had been murdered by a cyborg years before.

The movie explores Alita's dawning awareness of who and what she is: a relic from a long-ago past who turns out to be the ultimate, made-for-combat cyborg. Alita has no memory of her past at first, and just as the inhumanly huge eyes on her face would indicate, she approaches most situations with wide-eyed innocence and naivety, but she catches on quickly and begins to understand the nature of the dystopian world in which she finds herself. She's a strange admixture of centuries-old nanotech and a teenaged woman's brain, and this complicates her kind-of father/daughter relationship with Ido.

Alita is a cyborg, but she's also still very much a girl, and she falls for the charms of Hugo (Keean Johnson), a young man who does scut work for Dr. Ido, but who also works for the malevolent Vector (Mahershala Ali), a fixer who has connections to powerful people in Zalem. Hugo teaches Alita about a street game called Motorball, which is played while wearing supercharged rollerblades. The street version of the game is rough-and-tumble, and Alita takes to it like a natural. Later on, she has a chance to enter a professional-level Motorball tournament; by this point in the film, she has unlocked her innate martial-arts prowess and proven more than capable of taking care of herself in any number of dangerous situations.

As other critics have noted, the film doesn't dwell on the philosophical aspects of the story. Some issues, like What does it mean for a cyborg to fall in love with a human and vice versa?, are touched upon, but never explored. Certain social issues are brought to the fore, but they're the typical ones found in dystopian sci-fi/cyberpunk stories: systemic oppression, panopticon-style loss of privacy, etc. The movie is primarily all about the action and the visuals, and on that level, "Alita" more than delivers.

I had fun watching the film, which will appeal primarily to people familiar with Japanese animé and manga. I'm not into those things, but even I, as a non-expert, could tell that a great effort had been made to pay tribute to those genres. Reviewer Chris Stuckmann called "Alita" the first movie to successfully render animé/manga on film, and I agree with him. It's an impressive movie that allows its visuals to do much of the storytelling. The action sequences are unapologetically animé in style, and the sweeping panoramas of Iron City and Zalem stand as great achievements in world-building. I wouldn't be surprised if "Alita" ended up nominated for an Oscar or two for its technical achievements. The special effects, done by Weta Workshop (ILM's New Zealand-based competitor, and the effects house that put together the Lord of the Rings films), are top-notch.

The story elements will inevitably remind the veteran moviegoer of any number of other films. "Blade Runner" comes immediately to mind, and so do "Robocop" and "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Alita herself is somewhat similar to Robocop in that she has a human brain inside a robotic body. Unlike Robocop, though, she's not limited to eating baby food: she can eat oranges and chocolate, among other foods, and her robotic body is somehow able to metabolize anything she consumes, although we never see her go to the bathroom. The movie's divide between the haves and the have-nots will remind people strongly of "Elysium." The fight scenes will call to mind "The Matrix" and its many knockoffs. There are also echoes of "The Terminator" and even of the Borg queen from "Star Trek: First Contact," whose head and body can apparently spend time apart—something we see a lot of in this film.

Let me stop there and concentrate on the fight scenes for a moment. One common complaint among critics is that CGI sucks all the meaning, tension, and suspense out of fight scenes. Characters in those scenes look fake—like plastic or some other light, floaty material. In the Star Wars prequels, for example, it's obvious when old Count Dooku is being digitally faked. Same goes for Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi reboot films. I would argue, though, that that's not an issue in "Alita," partially because of the nature of the story being told. Pretty much everyone who fights anyone in this movie is a robot, so you'd expect a robot to move inhumanly fast, and with inhuman precision. When we find out that Alita was programmed to fight using a cyborg martial art called Panzerkunst (literally "tank art" or "armor art," the art of fighting while armored), her deadly proficiency makes sense.

This leads us to the Mary Sue issue. Is Alita like Rey in "The Last Jedi"—a flawless female character who can do no wrong? I'm happy to report that that's not the case. Despite the fact that Rey is ostensibly human, I had an easier time relating to Alita and her troubles than I did to Rey. Hugo even says, at one point, that Alita is the most human person he's ever met. The story takes pains to explain the how and the why of Alita, so her powers and her proficiency at combat all make sense. Alita also makes choices that end up hurting some of the people she loves, and because she cares so much for them, this care is itself a sort of weakness. If anything, I found myself mentally comparing Alita not to Rey, but to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman—another example of a strong female character done right. Wonder Woman, like Alita, approaches the world with wide-eyed innocence, but also with a deep sense of her own principles, and with a set of skills and powers that give her an underlying self-assurance.

Rosa Salazar, the actress behind the CGI'ed face of Alita, gives a warm, graceful, and even powerful performance. Alita's moon-eyed face may be initially off-putting to people, but once the viewer locates her in her proper context—i.e., she's a cyborg, not a human—Alita's features (which are probably a relic of the animé/manga aesthetic) simply become part of the story. Christoph Waltz does a fine job as Dr. Ido; he brings a fatherly concern to the proceedings as he wrestles with the twin ideas that he has somehow brought his own daughter back from the dead, and that this being before him is not his daughter, but is her own person, with her own choices to make and her own life to live. Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly (as Chiren, the ex-wife of Ido, and a doctor in her own right) play only limited roles in the story, but they make an impression whenever they're on screen. Some actors were unrecognizable to me, like Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach in "Watchmen") as Grewishka, a hulking cyborg, and Jeff Fahey as McTeague, a cowboy-like bounty hunter with robotic dogs. Michelle Rodriguez also gets a cameo as one of Alita's long-ago mentors, but here too, I didn't recognize the actress, given all the CGI.

Not yet mentioned in this review is the shady, nebulous character known as Nova (an uncredited Edward Norton), the puppet master who controls everything in both Zalem and Iron City. Nova's control is so invasive that he can manifest himself through some of the humans and cyborgs who work for him, including through Vector. Nova is an eerie presence throughout the film, even though we almost never see him up close and personal. Assuming "Alita" gives birth to a sequel, I expect we'll see more of him then.

While Nova might be the ultimate focus of Alita's fury, it's curious to note that "Alita: Battle Angel" lacks a crucial element found in almost all action movies: the ticking-clock scenario. I didn't realize this until the movie was over, and I was walking out of the theater, but once I began to chew over what I had just seen, I realized that none of the bad guys were doing the usual bad-guy thing, e.g., threatening to eradicate all life on Earth, threatening to kill Dr. Ido if Alita failed to perform some mission within 24 hours, etc. There was none of that. The only other action movie I can think of that lacks a ticking-clock scenario is "Enter the Dragon." In that film, Mr. Han is an evil man doing evil things, but we're never given a reason for why it's necessary to defeat him now. Same goes for Nova: he's the man pulling all the levers, but no reason is given to take him down now, which could be why the movie ends the way it does.

The running time for "Alita" is 122 minutes. While some critics complained about pacing problems with the story, I found the movie quite engaging overall, with very few draggy sections. There were, however, some cringe-inducingly corny moments, and one character's death near the end of the film was unintentionally hilarious. Because the movie is so casual about the omnipresence of cyborgs, I would have liked to see cyborg culture explored a bit more deeply. One human character is turned into a cyborg as a way to save his life, and the more I thought about the manner in which the character had been "saved," the more morbid I found the situation. That should have been explored in greater depth: why didn't the character wake up, look at his new cyborg body, and respond with visceral self-loathing? There's a very morbid, gruesome, Frankensteinian dimension to this cyborg-filled universe that bears further examination, but that would require a movie intent on actually probing these deeper issues.

The story left me with many technical questions about how exactly Alita can even exist, and while it's tempting to list those questions here, I'll simply wrap this review up by saying that, all in all, I very much enjoyed "Alita: Battle Angel," and I look forward to the inevitable sequel which, if I'm not mistaken, will deal with the second half of the original manga's storyline. "Alita" isn't deep, and probably isn't meant to be, but it's visually stunning and crammed with enough action to keep even the most jaded viewers entertained.

*The term "live action" now awkwardly encapsulates movies that are CGI-heavy, but that feature a great deal of mo-cap (motion capture) visual effects, i.e., actual human actors on a sound stage, whose actions are overlaid with computer-generated characters. Think of Jon Favreau's "The Jungle Book," which has one normal human actor and many CGI animal characters, but which is called "the live-action version" of the story to distinguish it from the animated cartoon from 1967. The upcoming remake of "The Lion King" is being called a live-action remake despite its being almost entirely CGI. At a guess, this is because the CGI is photo-realistic enough to qualify as "live" in almost every respect.